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Why Canucks fans can hope for/expect a better round two from Elias Pettersson

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Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
1 month ago
The Vancouver Canucks did well in their Round One series against the Nashville Predators. We might not go as far as to say they did ‘great,’ but the operative term here is probably ‘good enough.’
It is the Canucks who made it through Game 6, not the Predators. And, sure, the Canucks might have won the series in more dramatic fashion than commanding, but it’s not as though they didn’t deserve it.
As a whole, the Canucks played effectively. But that sum doesn’t extend to all of the individual parts. There were some rough patches throughout Round One, and certain segments of the lineup that definitely do not qualify as having played ‘good enough’ against the Predators.
And Elias Pettersson is probably chief among them.
Pettersson’s statline versus Nashville was six games, zero goals, three assists (all of them secondary), and a -2 rating. He only averaged 18:38 of ice-time per game, down a full minute from his regular season average.
But it’s worse than the numbers would indicate. By that count, Pettersson had a middling series. By the measure of the ol’ eye-test, however, Pettersson had a dreadful series. He just looked off from Game 1 onward; avoiding shots, fumbling the puck, and second-guessing himself at seemingly every opportunity.
Heading into Round Two, one truth seems relatively certain: if the Canucks are going to beat the Edmonton Oilers, Pettersson is going to need to be better.
By the tenets of his next year’s salary, Pettersson is meant to be the team’s best forward. Teams just don’t typically make it to the third round of the playoffs with their best forward playing this poorly.
But much like rebellions, playoff runs are built on hope. And thankfully, there is ample reason to hope – and maybe even expect – that Pettersson is due for a much better series.
First and foremost, Pettersson has traditionally feasted upon the run-and-gun Oilers. If we’re being entirely honest here, Nashville read as a team that was almost custom-built to counter and frustrate Pettersson’s patient game. Not so with Edmonton.
This season alone, Pettersson had a goal and six assists in four regular season games against the Oilers for a total of seven points. If we extend that into last year, Pettersson has 11 points in his last seven games against them, which is conveniently enough the maximum length that a playoff series might go.
But it’s not enough to point out that Pettersson had regular season success against the Oilers and act like that automatically translates to the playoffs. To wit, Pettersson had four goals and five points against Nashville in the regular season, and look where that got him.
It’s more important to point out how the Edmonton series is going to differ from the Nashville series, and how that could benefit Pettersson immensely.
The differences between Edmonton and Nashville should be obvious. Nashville is a team that contributes by committee, buoyed by four relatively even forward lines of roughly equal skill. There were no shifts off against Nashville, in other words.
Edmonton, on the other hand, is perhaps the most top-heavy team in NHL history.
Facing Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl is no easy task. But this article isn’t about the task facing the Vancouver Canucks as a whole, it’s about Elias Pettersson. And based on the way things are going right now, we anticipate Pettersson to largely avoid those two ultra-tricky matchups.
As of yet, JT Miller and Elias Lindholm are having much better playoffs than Pettersson. This season, they’ve proven themselves at least equally capable, if not more, of tackling tough matchups. Thus, we can probably expect Miller and Lindholm to cover the majority of the shifts against McDavid and Draisaitl, especially with home-ice advantage in the early going.
And that potentially leaves a much weaker bottom-end of the Edmonton lineup for Pettersson to feast upon.
In some ways, we saw this play out in the regular season. In the first game of the year against the Oilers, Pettersson played just 3:10 against Draisaitl at 5v5 and 1:12 against McDavid, playing more minutes against 3C Ryan McLeaod (3:31) than either of them.
Miller, conversely, played 9:13 against McDavid and 6:13 against Draisaitl.
The end result? An 8-1 win and a staggering 74.70% xG for Pettersson, a dominant performance against weaker competition.
Game 2 went a little differently. In Edmonton and without the last change, Pettersson played 5:01 against Draisaitl and 4:09 against McDavid, right in line with Miller’s 5:10 against Draisaitl and 4:52 against McDavid.
Pettersson was on the ice for three even-strength goals and none against all the same, controlling 85.71% of the scoring chances.
Back at home in November for their third game of the year, Pettersson again escaped the tough matchups, playing 3:42 against Draisaitl and 2:10 against McDavid. Somehow, he wound up playing the most against Dylan Holloway (4:30) and Warren Foegele (4;27). Miller, meanwhile, took on a truly mind-boggling 12:01 of matchup time against McDavid.
For whatever reason, even with Miller taking all those heavy minutes, Pettersson still had a ‘meh’ game with a 44.44% Corsi and no on-ice goals for (with one against.) He’d add an assist on the power play.
The final regular season matchup between the two teams came in mid-April, and was a home game for Edmonton. McDavid sat that one out, but the Oilers still put Draisaitl out for as much time against Pettersson (5:04) as possible, outscoring Pettersson and his linemates 3-2 in that time. Miller, meanwhile, only managed to be out there for 2:09 against Draisaitl, but that’s only because a returning Lindholm played 7:13 against him. Clearly, that was the matchup coach Rick Tocchet was more interested in trying out, and it worked – Lindholm did not get scored on.
So now we hit Round Two, which begins with two home games for the Canucks in which Tocchet will be allowed to set his matchups with each whistle.
We can probably expect Miller to skate out there for most shifts against McDavid.
We can probably expect Lindholm to skate out there for most shifts against Draisaitl.
That could leave Pettersson facing the Oilers’ current third line of Holloway, McLeod, and Corey Perry, or perhaps even their fourth line of Foegele, Derek Ryan, and Mattias Janmark.
Really, Pettersson couldn’t ask for a better opportunity for a postseason breakout.
That’s in addition to the fact that this series will be decidedly less physical, less defensively-oriented, and less shot-blocky than the previous one.
That’s in addition to Pettersson and friends having had four days off rest before Wednesday’s Game 1.
And that’s in addition to the inescapable feeling that Pettersson is absolutely, 100%, beyond due.
Whether fans want to call it hope or a genuine expectation, we believe there is ample reason for optimism when it comes to Pettersson versus the Oilers.
But optimism only counts for so much when the buzzer sounds and the actual puck hits the actual ice.

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